Methodological Assumptions

Some initial thoughts about my research standpoint, based on Burrell and Morgan’s scheme for analysing assumptions about the nature of social science (1979, cited in Cohen et al (2007, p9))…

I don’t view the answers to my research questions existing in an objective form, independent of the actors involved. I’m dealing with story, something that is intrinsically subjective and human. The effectiveness of a story comes from its affectiveness; the emotional reponse that is created through narrative. Someone will respond to a story in one of a myriad ways, influenced by all sorts of psychological and sociological factors that are impossible to untangle.

There might be empirical studies into the physiological response to narrative but I don’t anticipate that they would be helpful in this context. Certainly the literature I’ve been reading doesn’t dwell on the scientific side of things.

So I take a strongly nominalist viewpoint.

As I’m assuming that knowledge is something “personal, subjective and unique” (Cohen et al, 2007 p7). To uncover people’s responses to stories and their attitudes towards them will mean me getting directly involved with the subjects. I won’t be able to gather data remotely or in a  way that avoids participation in some way. Exactly how, I’m not sure yet.

This is an anti-positivist approach.

People react differently to stories, as mentioned earlier. I’m working off the assumption that there is an unpredictable element to the use of story, no magic formula that will guarantee an automatic response in the audience. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make choices that influence how someone responds. Stories are cultural artefacts so involve aspects that will be recognisable to both creator and listener. The guidance I hope to provide in the project that this dissertation is linked to will be based on consciously using those aspects of story to achieve the desired effects.

My understanding of human nature is Voluntarist.

Lastly, this seems to call for an idiographic methodology. There will be a strong qualitative aspect to the research. My feeling is that although there may be some quantitative metrics that I could look at I would have to make some pretty large assumptions about a scientific basis for them. To give a simplistic example, I could look at the number of views a digital story posted on YouTube receives but I’m not sure I could use this to say there is a direct causal link between the way the elements of the story were compiled and its popularity. 

Notes of Caution

I don’t want to completely dismiss any notion of quantitative research method based on these assumptions. It may be that there will be useful quantitative data that I can use to help tell my story, I’m just not quite at the stage of deciding what that might look like yet.

Another warning bell going off is that it’s nice to have some big words to attach to my methodological approach, that doesn’t necessarily make them right. It feels right but that might be my own broader worldview and personal style at play. I need to keep this under scrutiny and reassess as I go. I’ve not addressed them critically yet. That’s my next step.

My colleague Will has been encouraging me to see this dissertation as telling a story. In this post I’ve talked about how project teams will be telling stories, but I’m part of that process too. This story will be “personal, subjective and unique” and that’s not something that I want to shy away from. But as I was saying to Will this evening, I don’t want to use that as an excuse for producing a piece of work that is ill-defined and full of woolly thinking!

Next steps

Read on to continue to critically examine these aspects of methodology and choose methods that will help me with the research.

Cohen L, Manion L & Morrson, K (2007) Research Methods in Education (6th edition), Routledge, Oxford.





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